These are Africa’s undisputed tremendous stars and the reason Our Guests set out eagerly on dawn and dusk game-viewing expeditions. There can be no squabble that giraffes and zebra are prettier creatures than buffalo, or that cheetah can be easier to find than leopards, but seeing any of the Big 5 living wild and free in their natural habitats remains an unforgettable thrill at the top of most travellers’ safari tick list.
The ‘Big 5’ term was initially invented in the 18th -19th Century by big game hunters who listed the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African lion, leopard and rhinoceros as the five most dangerous creatures to hunt on foot in Africa. Fortunately, the Big 5 are now protected in national parks in East Africa. Today’s tourists contribute directly to the conservation of these magnificent animals across encroachments like poaching, wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction.
Peak safari season runs from July to October across Africa. This coincides with the continent’s cool, dry weather. There are several reasons why it’s easier to find them at these times
The lack of rain means the vegetation dries up and thins out, literally making it easier to see a rhino or buffalo compared to the long, dense grass and heavy vegetation of summer. This particularly applies to leopards, which spend much of their time in trees – in winter, they will have fewer leaves, making these sleek felines easier to spot.
The lack of rain also means that ponds, streams, pools and smaller water courses dry up, forcing animals to congregate around the remaining large lakes and rivers. Most animals must drink every day so they don’t stray too far from the little water that is left. This is particularly true of herds of buffalo and elephants, which often migrate to rivers like the River Nile in Murchison Falls, Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth, Mara river in Masai Mara Game Reserve and Grumeti river in the Serengeti.
Some of the Big 5 are found in different Destinations across Africa. If you want the best chance of seeing them all on a single safari – sometimes, if you’re really lucky on a single game drive or in a single day – then head to the following places:
The Ngorongoro Crater This crater in Tanzania is packed with about 30 000 animals that can’t descend the steep walls and so thrive in this varied ecosystem. It is easily combined with the Serengeti and Tarangire.
Serengeti National Park
Maasai Mara Game Reserve
Kidepo Valley National Park
Murchison Falls National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park
This is the largest land animal in the world. Some of the adults can reach up to 3 meters in height. The adult males, bull elephants, are usually solitary creatures while females are generally found in groups led by a matriarch surrounded by younger females and their offspring. Although they are referred to by many as gentle giants, elephants can be very dangerous and have been known to charge at vehicles, humans and other animals when they feel threatened.
The buffalo is perhaps the most dangerous to humans among the big five. Buffalos are very protective and territorial and when threatened they are known to charge with astonishing speed. The buffalo are mostly found in groups and large herds. They spend most of their time grazing the savanna and floodplains. When approached the dominant bulls will tend to take an aggressive vigilant stand while the other adults gather around the calves to protect them.
Unlike lions, leopards are almost always found alone. They are the most elusive of the big five since they mostly hunt during the night. The best time to find them is very early in the morning or at night. During the day you need to look carefully for these animals who usually can be found partially camouflaged in the undergrowth or behind a tree.
Rhinoceros are an endangered species. Even seeing one at a distance is a rare treat. There are two types of rhinos: black and white rhinos. The white rhino gets its name not from its colour which is really more yellowish grey but from the Dutch word “weid” which means wide. This is in reference to the animal’s broad, wide mouth. With their square jaw and wide lips, they are able to graze. The black rhino, on the other hand, has a more pointed mouth which it uses to eat leaves from trees and bushes. White rhinos are much larger than black rhinos and more common.
The lion is often called the king of the jungle because it is the fiercest and largest predator on land. Lion’s natural prey includes zebras, impalas, giraffes and other herbivores, especially the wildebeest. Lions tend to group themselves in pride of 12. Males are easily distinguished from females with their shaggy manes and are generally much larger. The females, however, do most of the hunting. Although they have been known to attack humans, lions are generally calm animals that do not usually seem threatened by close proximity to people.
East Africa is proud to have the African Big 5, and These are classified into 2 which are herbivores and Carnivores. The Herbivores include African Elephants, Rhinoceros and African Cape Buffalos and the Carnivores are African Lions and Leopards. When We talk about the “African Big 5” we don’t mean the Magnitude of the Animals But this comes with an impact the animal has towards the ecosystem. If we talk about the African Big 5, the Lions and Leopards are on Top of the Food chain because their presence can decrease and control the animal population and their absence can increase the population. In an event where there is no predation, this causes inbreeding over multiplying of wild animals in their home ranges and which can bring starvation.
The Existence of Predation also maintains strong genes in the ecosystems and the strongest survive and the weak become prey, however in the long run you find the ecosystem is balanced with the strong genes.
An African Elephant is referred to as an Environmental stylist, meaning that this can choose to create a forest in a place where it doesn’t exist. For instance, many safari goers who have come on safari with us into Uganda and have Visited Murchison Falls National Park, have witnessed the Big Biome of vegetation comprised of Borassus Palm trees of which 80% this vegetation was contributed and distributed by Elephants through the Northern Corridor of Kidepo Valley National Park and Murchison Falls. Through Eating palm fruits, since they have an incomplete Digestion through their dumping more trees continue growing in this area.
African Cape Buffalo and Rhinoceros are known to be bulky feeders, they feed on tall and low-quality grass exposing the short and high-quality vegetation which is good for the other grazers (Antelopes) but as well in this bulky feeding, they live in big heard they can change a grassland into a desert imagining, Buffalos living in over 100 – 1000 numbers, grazing and at the same time stepping onto the vegetation leading to the loss of the grassland.
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